June 30, 2016

Partly sunny

Indians 3, Blue Jays 1: Tribe wins fourth straight

CLEVELAND – Aaron Laffey vs. Jesse Litsch.

Not exactly the makings of a pitching duel, but that’s how it played out Wednesday night at Progressive Field.

With both unheralded starters limiting the offensive production, it made for a low-hit and low-scoring affair that Laffey and the Indians got the better of in a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays.

Laffey allowed just a run on five hits over six innings, while Litsch surrendered two runs on four hits over the same span. Both teams managed just six hits on the night.

“It was a well-pitched ballgame,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose team won its fourth straight game to match a season-high winning streak. “Even when (Laffey) fell behind in the count, he made the pitches.”

Laffey, whose wife Jackie gave birth to the couple’s first child (son Braeden), Tuesday, celebrated in style, working a quality start in his second outing back from Triple-A Columbus.

The left-hander didn’t allow a run over the first six innings before departing after surrendering a pair of leadoff singles in the seventh. After allowing a base hit to the first batter he faced, Laffey retired 13 of the next 14 hitters.

He encountered only one jam the entire night, loading the bases with two outs on consecutive walks in the fifth, but pitched out of it by striking out leadoff hitter Fred Lewis to end the inning.   

“I kept telling myself at certain points when I’d fall behind or had runners on base, ‘c’mon, your son was just born, you can’t give in,’” Laffey said. “It’s part of the inspiration. Everything has a new meaning now.”

Laffey was a different pitcher than the one that took the mound Friday in Cincinnati, when he allowed five runs in four innings of a 10-3 loss to the Reds in his first start back from the minors.

“He threw more strikes,” Acta said. “He’s a guy that doesn’t have overpowering stuff, so he can’t afford to pitch behind in the count.”

“I was able to pitch ahead in the count,” said Laffey, who won for the first time as a starter since August of 2008, snapping a string of seven straight losses in the role. “Just getting ahead was a big part.”

It looked as though the Indians would make quick work of Litsch, who entered the night sporting an 0-2 record and 8.78 ERA in three starts this season.

Shin-Soo Choo belted a solo home run two batters into the first inning for the Indians, but they didn’t score off Litsch again until an RBI single from Carlos Santana in the sixth.

Toronto closed to within a run in the seventh before Matt LaPorta gave the Indians some breathing room with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning – his second long ball in two nights.

“That means a lot of things are going right for me and my approach is solid,” LaPorta said.

That left it up to Cleveland’s bullpen, which rode to the rescue once again, holding the power-laden Jays hitless over the final two innings.

Side-armed right-hander Joe Smith disposed of Toronto’s second through four hitters – Alex Gonzalez, Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells – all on ground outs to shortstop Jason Donald in the eighth inning.

With Kerry Wood unavailable after saving three games in three days, the Indians called on Chris Perez to close out the win.

Perez was up to challenge, retiring the side in order and striking out Aaron Hill for the final out. Perez, Cleveland’s primary setup man, filled in earlier this season for Wood, who began the year on the disabled list.

“Honestly, it’s just like the eighth (inning) to me,” Perez said. “Sometimes, the eighth is harder. I just looked at it like it was another outing.”

Perez had to endure one anxious moment when defensive replacement Andy Marte dropped a foul ball at first base that would have ended the game.

“It didn’t hurt, so no worries,” Perez said.

The Indians entered the series with Toronto on the heels of a less-than-fruitful interleague road trip that saw them lose seven of nine games, but they’ve opened the homestand with three straight wins. Cleveland goes for the sweep of the Jays today.  

“There’s so many games in our sport,” Acta said. “You can’t get too high or too low. I like how things are going.”


Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.